This from the BBC website Lost wallet found 5 years on

It is about a story in which somebody lost his wallet 5 years ago after he watched a game in a rugby stadium, and it was found 5 years later. Here is a sentence from the text:

....Mr Joiner said: "I never thought it could have been in the stand because of the number of people you would have thought would have sat here."

The part of the sentence "...you would have thought would have sat here." drew my attention. We don't see that structure very often. So, I wondered why it might have been used.

Why is it "...you would have thought would have sat..." but not "...you would think would have sat..."?

I did some research and found similar discussions, but they are not clear enough for me, as a non-native speaker.

So, I want to ask: Is it simply because the editor of the text assumes "the activity of thinking" already took place and cannot happen any longer?

  • It's a good question, the example involves the language of speculation.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 20:16
  • Isn't "...you would think..." enough for speculation? Why specifically "....you would have thought....? Or are they both the same?
    – Yunus
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 20:18
  • Possibly that's how Mr Joiner talks, it's his unique idiolect. Remember it's spoken, and depending on the pitch and how it is stressed, the meaning would be perfectly understandable. It's not wrong, but neither is your suggestion.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 20:22
  • Maybe to many native speakers the example appears unremarkable but the repetition of "would have + pp" in such close proximity is interesting nevertheless
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 20:26
  • The sentence attributed to "Mr. Joiner" is poor diction in some dialects, and colloquial in others. But any listener would understand the meaning, so it's not quite "wrong" in any speech. To stay on the safe side with "would" or "were", always make sure it forms a "third conditional", in the construction "would have + <past participle>" - you should be able to answer the question that starts "WHEN would <subject> have...." So, the above would be more universally natural if Mr. Joiner had said: "because of the number of people that might have sat here."
    – BadZen
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 2:36

4 Answers 4


The cited quotation originated in extemporaneous speech, not in edited writing, so it's important to recognize at the outset that we are not dealing here with what the poster describes as "the editor of the text"—because there is no such editor.

Instead, we are dealing with a speaker who is trying to convey his surprise at an outcome that he considers extraordinarily unlikely (which indeed it is). A fuller expression of his underlying thought might look like this:

If you had told me a month ago that my wallet was still in the stand at the rugby stadium, five years after I lost it there, I would have dismissed the idea as impossible because so many people had sat there in the interim.

Rather than express the idea that way, however, the speaker gave the interviewer this somewhat telescoped and syntactically garbled wording:

I never thought it [the wallet] could have been in the stand because of the number of people you would have thought would have sat here.

If asked to rephrase this wording in less confusing terms, while retaining most of the original structure and many of the original words, an editor might come up with something like this:

I never imagined that the wallet was still in the stand because many people must have sat here since I lost it.

The flurry of "could/would/would" conditionals in the original spoken sentence is somewhat bewildering and in any event unnecessary to convey the sense of the speaker's reaction to and thinking about the recovery of the wallet. The outlandishness of the happy ending may well have contributed to his inclination to frame his response in multiple conditionals. Alternatively, he may overuse conditionals all the time in his everyday speech. There's no law against it.


Other peoples' comments about the imprecision and idiom of, especially, informal spoken language are somewhat valid - but the statement is definitely grammatically correct standard English. This sort of conjectural language is used quite commonly in English but the structures used are less rigidly defined than in many other languages, so confusion is understandable.

The speaker wants to express his surprise and does so by saying: """if you thought in the past that the wallet wouldn't be found because so many people must have sat there, you would be wrong and surprised"""

The alternative you proposed, "... you would think would have sat there", would also be grammatically correct, but it doesn't express surprise the same way as the original.

The crux of everything is the unexpected result - despite many people sitting there nobody found the wallet.

Regarding your confusion around tense (when did "the activity of thinking take place") - it is different in the original statement and the alternative you propose and I would say that the subtle change in tense is what is actually making the one phrase express surprise and the other not.


The two forms are largely interchangeable in practice, but describing what one "would have thought" places slightly more emphasis on the idea that this thinking might have turned out to be wrong. Describing what one "would think" expresses a slight bit more openness to the possibility that that thinking is, in fact, correct.

In a different situation and speaking a little more literally, you might say something like, "I would have thought a lot of people would sit there, but when I checked there was hardly anyone there," or, "I would think a lot of people would sit there, but I've never checked so I don't really know."


what I think is that:
you would have thought➡️the thing you once thought of, and it is not what you are thinking of now.( you changed your mind)

you would think➡️what you are thinking of at the very moment.

  • Hello genius and welcome to ELL. On this site, we only accept verifiable answers, not opinions. If you know your answer is correct, please say so and support it with examples or references. Otherwise please delete your answer. Thanks :)
    – gotube
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 6:07

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